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Tehran Mayor Seeks Upset Win in Iranian Presidential Runoff

  • Gary Thomas

The campaign in Iran's runoff presidential campaign ended Wednesday. The campaign has been heated, with charges flying back and forth between the two camps. The mayor of the city is trying to shake the label of extremist from his opponent's followers.

The last rally for Mahmood Ahmadinejad in Tehran had all the trappings of a modern political campaign.

There were slickly produced campaign films highlighting Mr. Adhmadinejad's service in the Iran-Iraq war and his tenure as Tehran mayor.

There was a boys' choir, literally singing the praises of the candidate.

And there were politicians' speeches.

The only thing missing was the candidate. Although he was supposed to appear, it turned out he was in Mashaad, campaigning for votes to the last-minute.

Mr. Ahmadinejad has come from relative political obscurity to go head-to-head with a prominent national figure, former president Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, in Friday's runoff for Iran's top elected office.

In style and substance, the two men could not be more different. At 70, Mr. Rafsanjani is an Islamic cleric, a political veteran, and what might be termed moderately progressive on the Iranian political spectrum. Mr. Ahmadinejad, who is 31 years younger, is a former Revolutionary Guard, a novice on the national stage, and a hardline conservative much feared by the reformist movement.

Tehran-based analyst Karim Sadjapour, with the International Crisis Group that monitors world developments, says the two men have totally different appeals.

"Rafsanjani is talking economic reform, privatization, foreign direct investment, whereas Ahmadinejad is talking about populism, subsidies, things like this - catering to the poor," he said.

This week's runoff campaign was brief but bruising, with mudslinging from both sides - an unusual ingredient in Iranian presidential politics. The Rafsanjani campaign attempted to stick Mr. Ahmadinejad with the label of an extremist, intent on rolling back reform. Reformists have charged that an element of the Revolutionary Guard is violating prohibitions agains military involvement in politics by mobilizing votes for Mr. Ahmadinejad.

Meanwhile, the Tehran mayor's backers have portrayed Mr. Rafsanjani as the Iranian equivalent of a political hack.

At one point, the judiciary issued a stern warning to people to stop sending defamatory cell phone text messages about the candidates.

This Ahmadinejad supporter echoes the commonly heard sentiment about the Tehran mayor that he is a simple man - a backhanded slap at Mr. Rafsanjani, who, it is widely believed, has amassed great personal wealth.

"He is a simple and honest man because he lives like simple people. He lives simply," the supporter said.

And this supporter praises Mr. Ahmadinejad's clean lifestyle and Islamic piety.

The outcome will depend on which man can capture the most votes of people who supported the five candidates who were defeated in the first round of voting.